Every year at this time of the season, I cringe at the sight of the “bad haircuts” on what should be large, beautiful Crepe Myrtle shrubs. Homeowners, and even “professional’ landscapers seem to whack back the stems on Crepe Myrtles to the same point they were pruned last year, and the year before that, and the year before that. I’m not sure where this practice came from or why it started, but it is something that does damage and doesn’t provide you with the benefits you’re hoping for. Although we are all ready for spring to hurry up and get here, we can sometimes do more harm than good when we get impatient and bored enough to just go outside and start hackin’ away. It feels like this practice might have caught on just to give us something to do this time of year. It’s similar to when we get impatient and scalp the Bermuda in March, only to have another freeze in April.
We call this practice of pruning Crepe Myrtles every year in the same place, as Crepe Murder. It does not actually kill the shrub, but it does take away from the natural growth, health, and beauty of the shrub. These shrubs can grow quite large, with colorful displays of flowers all summer, especially in the more southern states. Oklahoma is on the northern fringe of climates where Crape Myrtles will thrive and those of you in NC are also in a similar climate. Pruning is sometimes needed after a shrub is damaged by a hard freeze, but with the warm winters we’ve experienced in recent years, that most likely won’t be an issue.
Otherwise, we recommend just letting them grow with minor pruning to keep a nice shape and prevent them from becoming too dense. If space allows, let them grow to 8, 10, even 12 feet or more. And if pruning is needed, don’t take out every stem at one time similar to the image above, but selectively prune for shaping. Yearly selective pruning keeps the Crepe Myrtle from becoming overgrown and also avoids stressing the plant out by resetting any growth. I’ve included a good example in the picture below that explains the proper way to prune. Here’s a good website that goes more in depth.
For a good video on Crepe Murder, and how to properly prune these shrubs, visit here. And if you really want to do something at this time of year to help your Crepe Myrtle, apply a systemic insecticide and dormant oil. This will help prevent aphids and scale later on in the season, which are two pests which can harm Crepe Myrtles.
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